Library:Deng Xiaoping interview with Mike Wallace

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Replies to the United States TV correspondent Mike Wallace
AuthorDeng Xiaoping
First published2 September, 1986
TypeInterview transcript

Mike Wallace: Mr. Chairman, what do you make of Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent speech in Vladivostok?

Deng Xiaoping: There is something new in Gorbachev’s speech in Vladivostok, and that is why we have expressed cautious welcome to what is new and positive in it. However, his remarks also show that he has not taken a big step. Soon after Gorbachev made his speech, an official from the Foreign Ministry of the Soviet Union also made a speech that was different in tone. This shows that the Soviet authorities have to decide among themselves what policies to pursue with regard to China, so we still have to wait and see.

Wallace: Have you ever met Mr. Gorbachev?

Deng: No.

Wallace: Would you like to meet him? He says he will talk at any time, at any level, about anything. Would you be prepared to meet Gorbachev at the summit?

Deng: If Gorbachev takes a solid step towards the removal of the three major obstacles in Sino-Soviet relations, particularly if he urges Vietnam to end its aggression in Kampuchea and withdraw its troops from there, I for my part will be ready to meet him.

Wallace: The Vietnamese said just this morning that they would like to engage in negotiations with China to bring an end to the difficulties between Vietnam and China.

Deng: Vietnam has said that at least a hundred times. We have told them explicitly that the prerequisite is the withdrawal of all Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea. The question of Kampuchea should be settled by the four parties in Kampuchea through consultation.

Wallace: So, as far as a summit between Deng and Gorbachev is concerned, the ball is in Mr. Gorbachev’s court?

Deng: He should ask Vietnam to withdraw all its troops from Kampuchea. On this question, the Soviet Union can play its part. Because without Soviet backing, the Vietnamese could not go on fighting in Kampuchea for a single day. Gorbachev evaded this question in his Vladivostok speech. That is why I say that the Soviet Union has not taken a big step towards the removal of the three major obstacles.

Wallace: It seems that Chinese relations with capitalist America are better than Chinese relations with the Soviet communists. Why is that?

Deng: China does not regard social systems as a criterion in its approach to problems. The relations between China and the United States are determined in the context of their specific conditions, and so are the relations between China and the Soviet Union.

Wallace: My producer says that I should ask you once again if you would like to meet Gorbachev.

Deng: As I have said, if the Soviet Union can contribute to the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea, that will remove the main obstacle in Sino-Soviet relations. I will say it once again: the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea constitutes the main obstacle in Sino-Soviet relations. The stationing of troops by Vietnam in Kampuchea has actually turned Sino-Soviet relations into a hot spot. Once this problem is solved, I will be ready to meet Gorbachev. To be frank, I am over 82, already advanced in years. I have long since accomplished my historical task of making overseas visits, and I am determined not to take any more trips abroad. However, if this obstacle in Sino-Soviet relations is removed, I shall be ready to break the rule and go to any place in the Soviet Union to meet with Gorbachev. I believe a meeting like that will be of much significance to the improvement of Sino-Soviet relations and the normalization of relations between the two states.

Wallace: And what must come first, specifically?

Deng: Of the three major obstacles, the main one is Vietnamese aggression against Kampuchea, because although it is Vietnamese armed forces that are pitted against China, the hot spot, the confrontation is actually between China and the Soviet Union.

Wallace: Do you mean the Vietnamese troops in Kampuchea?

Deng: Yes.

Wallace: President and Mrs. Reagan watch this programme just about every Sunday night. And I’m sure they are going to be watching closely on the night of this broadcast. Do you have any message for President and Mrs. Reagan?

Deng: When President and Mrs. Reagan were in China on a visit, we became acquainted. We had a cordial and frank conversation. Through your channel, I should like to extend my good wishes to President and Mrs. Reagan. I hope that during President Reagan’s term of office relations between our two countries will make further progress.

Wallace: What are the major issues currently dividing China and America?

Deng: There are three obstacles in Sino-Soviet relations, and there is one obstacle in Sino-U.S. relations. That is the Taiwan question, or the question of the reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. In the United States people say the U.S. takes a position of “non-involvement” in the question of China’s reunification, that is, the Taiwan question. This is not true. The fact is that the United States has been involved all along. In the 1950s, MacArthur and Dulles regarded Taiwan as an unsinkable U.S. aircraft carrier in Asia and the Pacific. The Taiwan question was therefore the most important issue in the negotiations on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States.

Wallace: Is the United States failing to live up to its commitment to China concerning U.S. relations with Taiwan?

Deng: I think the United States should take a wiser approach to this question.

Wallace: What approach?

Deng: Most regrettably, during the latter period of the Carter Administration, the U.S. Congress adopted the Taiwan Relations Act, which has become an immense obstacle in Chinese-U.S. relations. As I said just now, I hope that during his term of office President Reagan will bring about further progress in relations between our two countries, including making some effort in respect of China’s reunification. I believe that the United States, President Reagan in particular, can accomplish something in this connection.

Wallace: What can they do?

Deng: They can encourage and persuade Taiwan first to have “three exchanges” with us, namely, the exchange of mail, trade and air and shipping services. Contacts of this kind can help enhance mutual understanding between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, thus creating conditions for them to proceed to discuss the question of reunification and ways to achieve it.

Wallace: What’s in it for Taiwan to be reunified with the mainland?

Deng: First of all, it is a national question, a question of national sentiments. All members of the Chinese nation want to see China reunified. The present state of division is contrary to our national will. Second, so long as Taiwan is not reunified with the mainland, its status as part of Chinese territory will not be secure. No one knows when Taiwan might be taken away again. Third, in reunifying the country we shall adopt the formula of “one country, two systems”, that is to say, the mainland will retain the socialist system while Taiwan will retain the capitalist system. This will bring no change to the social system in Taiwan or the way of life of the people there and will cause them no loss.

As for the contrast between the levels of development of Taiwan and the mainland, this question should be examined objectively. The difference is only temporary. As far as the mainland is concerned, there have been some mistakes and delays in our national construction during the 37 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. But with the implementation of our present policy on the mainland, the growth rate will be rapid and the gap will be narrowed. I believe that over the next few years the growth rate on the mainland will, at the least, be no lower than that in Taiwan. The reason is very simple. Taiwan is short of resources, while the mainland abounds in them. Taiwan has already tapped its potential, while the potential on the mainland has not yet been tapped and certainly will be soon. Besides, in terms of overall strength, the mainland is much stronger than Taiwan. So it is one-sided to compare only Taiwan’s somewhat higher average income with the mainland’s.

Wallace: To modernize the Chinese economy and develop your country, Chairman Deng, you said China needs Western investment. But Western investors complain that China is making it difficult to do business here: exorbitant rents for offices, too much bickering about contracts, too many special taxes, labour that is too expensive, plus corruption, kickbacks, and the Chinese bureaucrats. Are you aware of these complaints?

Deng: Yes, I am aware of these things. They do exist. As we are new to doing business with the West, it is inevitable that we shall make some mistakes. I do understand the complaints of foreign investors. No one would come here and invest unless he got a return on his investment. We are taking effective measures to change the present state of affairs. I believe that these problems can be solved gradually. But when they are solved, new problems will arise and they, too, should be solved. As leaders, we have to get a clear picture of the problems and work out measures to solve them. There is also the question of educating the cadres.

Wallace: To get rich is glorious. That declaration by Chinese leaders to their people surprises many in the capitalist world. What does that have to do with communism?

Deng: We went through the “cultural revolution”. During the “cultural revolution” there was a view that poor communism was preferable to rich capitalism. After I resumed office in the central leadership in 1974 and 1975, I criticized that view. Because I did so, I was brought down again. Of course, there were other reasons too. I said to them that there was no such thing as poor communism. According to Marxism, communist society is based on material abundance. Only when there is material abundance can the principle of a communist society — that is, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” — be applied. Socialism is the first stage of communism. Of course, it covers a very long historical period. The main task in the socialist stage is to develop the productive forces, keep increasing the material wealth of society, steadily improve the life of the people and create material conditions for the advent of a communist society.

There can be no communism with pauperism, or socialism with pauperism. So to get rich is no sin. However, what we mean by getting rich is different from what you mean. Wealth in a socialist society belongs to the people. To get rich in a socialist society means prosperity for the entire people. The principles of socialism are: first, development of production and second, common prosperity. We permit some people and some regions to become prosperous first, for the purpose of achieving common prosperity faster. That is why our policy will not lead to polarization, to a situation where the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. To be frank, we shall not permit the emergence of a new bourgeoisie.

Wallace: Yes, but the farmers, for instance, that I saw down in the Pearl River estuary — they have motorcycles, they have colour television sets, they are building homes. You take measures to encourage them to grow rich. They only have to give a certain amount to the state and may keep the rest for themselves. And in a sense, that is almost like our system in the United States; they give a certain amount to the state in taxes and keep the rest for themselves.

Deng: In our system the public sector is the major sector of the economy, but there are also others. Even the much talked-about “ten-thousand-yuan households” in the countryside only have an annual income of some US$2,000 or 3,000. Would you call that rich? How many households like that are there? Compared with the developed countries, China still has a very low per capita national income.

Wallace: You spoke of the “cultural revolution” just now, Chairman Deng. What happened to you and your family during the “cultural revolution”?

Deng: That episode looks bad, but in the final analysis, it was also a good thing. Because it set people thinking and helped to identify our failings. Chairman Mao often said that bad things could be turned into good things. If we draw the right lessons from the “cultural revolution”, we can institute measures of reform to change the face of China politically and economically. Thus bad things can be turned into good things. It is because we reviewed our experience and drew the lessons of the “cultural revolution” that in the late 1970s and early 1980s we were able to formulate the policies that are now in force.

Wallace: So far, I have never seen a picture of you in a public place in China; why?

Deng: We do not encourage that. Any individual is a member of the collective. Nothing can be accomplished by an individual in isolation from others. Personally, I have all along rejected offers to write my biography. Over the years, I have done quite a few good things, but I have done some wrong things, too. Before the “cultural revolution”, we made such mistakes as the Great Leap Forward. Of course, I was not the principal advocate of that policy, but I did not oppose it either. That means I had a share in that mistake. If a biography is written, it should include both good and bad things, even the mistakes one has made.

Wallace: Two questions. You say you would like to live to the age of one hundred and then go to visit Karl Marx; maybe Mao Zedong will be seated by his side. What do you think those two gentlemen will have to say to you, Deng Xiaoping, when you are up there.

Deng: I am a Marxist. I have consistently followed the fundamental principles of Marxism. Marxism is also known as communism. We made the revolution, seized political power and founded the People’s Republic of China because we had this faith and this ideal. Because we had our ideal, and because we integrated the fundamental principles of Marxism with the concrete practice of China, we were able to win. Since our victory in the revolution, in the course of construction we have again integrated the fundamental principles of Marxism with the concrete practice of China. We are striving for the four modernizations, but people tend to forget that they are four socialist modernizations. This is what we are doing today.

Wallace: Everybody is asking this question: in the last few years Deng Xiaoping has done a good job — he’s done a good job in modernization, the economy is developing, people are not as afraid as they used to be — but after Deng Xiaoping is gone, what will happen? They wonder whether things will go back to the way they were before.

Deng: Certainly there will be no turning back. If you want to find out whether the present policies are here to stay, you should first examine whether the policies are correct, whether they are right for the country and the people and whether the life of the people is gradually improving under them. I believe that the people are discerning. If the present policies are altered, their standard of living will definitely fall. So long as the people think the present policies are correct, anyone who wants to change them will be brought down.

Wallace: Mao Zedong has been dead for just 10 years. What do you think would be Mao’s reaction to China today, a China where the leaders say to get rich is glorious, and where personal happiness and private enterprises and political reform and greater freedom of speech are beginning to be permitted — what would Mao say?

Deng: There are differences. However, there are similarities as far as certain principles are concerned. Mao Zedong Thought is still our guiding ideology. We have adopted the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China, which answers your question.

Wallace: It doesn’t answer my question. The China of Deng Xiaoping is different from the China of Mao Zedong. It’s a new revolution that is going on here, at least you are trying to make a new revolution, it seems.

Deng: You are right. We too say that what we are doing now is in essence a revolution. In another sense, we are engaged in an experiment. For us, this is something new, and we have to feel our way. Since it is something new, we are bound to make mistakes. Our method is to review our experience from time to time and correct mistakes whenever we discover them, so that minor mistakes will not grow into major ones.

Wallace: Last question. You are number one in China. How long do you intend to continue to be the chief leader and the chief adviser?

Deng: I am all for the abolition of life tenure and the institution of a retirement system. As you know, I told the Italian correspondent Oriana Fallaci that my plan was to work until 1985. It’s already a year beyond that date. I am now considering when to retire. Personally, I should like to retire soon. However, this is a rather difficult question. It is very hard to persuade the Party rank and file and the Chinese people to accept that. I believe if I retire before I die, it will help ensure the continuation of the present policies. It will also be in keeping with my own wishes. However, I need to work harder to talk people around. In the end, as I am a member of the Communist Party, I must obey the decision of the Party. I am a citizen of the People’s Republic of China, so I must obey the will of the people. I am still hoping that I can succeed in persuading the people to come round to my view.

Wallace: You told Fallaci “until 1985”; what will you tell me?

Deng: To be quite frank, I am trying to persuade people to let me retire at the Party’s Thirteenth National Congress next year. But so far, all I have heard is dissenting voices on all sides.

(An interview with Mike Wallace, a correspondent for the programme “60 Minutes” on CBS TV in the United States. For publication in this volume, the transcript of the interview has been slightly abridged.)